Monday, July 28, 2014

Setting a new jump course is like...

When I'm just starting out...

After two+ hours hauling fences in 85-ish degrees....

On a happy note, we have a pretty sweet course set up complete with triple bar, and I was very excited when the barn owner and a rider's mom came out to set the last half the course with me.  I'm very thankful for thoughtful and wonderful people!! :)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mo' Progress

Soonie and I had our second dressage lesson on Wednesday evening, and he was excellent.  Still have issues with him unlocking his jaw and softening through the poll tracking right, but progress is being made.  He's getting better about it each time out, and working on the shorter rein/outline is getting a little easier with each ride.  I'm still spending a good bit of the schooling sessions in stretch, but bringing him up for longer periods and trying to be way more proactive about him giving through the poll with proper energy from behind.  Getting there!

We had a funny moment today when we strolled out to the jump field to do a flat school.  All the jumps had been pulled and stacked on the side of the field in preparation for the farm's upcoming show.  Soonie is damn near unflappable - seriously, cars have flown by us at 45 mph, horns honking, and he just looked like this:

But the Stack 'O Jumps got him.  We weren't even near it when he locked on, snorted ("NOPE!"), and did the Sit 'n Spin and tried to leave.  I was somewhere between growling and laughing hysterically, because you have to admit it's funny when Mr. 99% Bombproof completely loses his shit.

We did not throw ourselves off a mountain in reality

That episode lasted all of about 20 seconds, and after some growling, then coaxing, and lots of patting, he marched over to the jump supplies and tried to crawl on them (King of the Mountain?).  Yep, he was over it and gave me some lovely trot stretch work out in the field like nothing had happened.  He really felt great today, and it was fun getting back in the field after the week layup and some rainy weather kept us away.


I also found this little gem from EventionTV (Schramm Eventing) and had to share.  Holy shit...yes.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What I Learned From: Geordi

Yeah he was 18.2h.  Not joking about that part.
I thought it might be fun to do a little spotlight on some of the interesting horses I've had the pleasure of working with in the past, and the things I learned from those experiences.  First up:  the 18+ hand wonder, Geordi.  Oh...this is a GOOD one.

I met Geordi in the summer of 2005 when I was on summer break from college and needed a project.  He was a 7 year old Selle Francais/TB cross gelding who had the maturity level of an obnoxious 2 year old.  His favorite pastime was exiting the ring when he decided he was done; this included a harrowing leap over the white plastic chain (the outdoor ring rail) and cantering down a 20 foot drop and into the barn, with the working student still aboard (nobody died).  He had no work ethic, and threw epic temper tantrums when he reached the end of his (excessively short) rope.  He was sweet and quiet on the ground, but was a challenge undersaddle.  So I come home from school and emailed my trainer saying I needed something to work with, didn't care about showing, and did she have anything?  Her prayer got answered.

I learned that when Big Horse wanted to leave, Big Horse left.  Sometimes he left before we even got in the ring.  And when leg, crop, and spurs all failed to even make him notice you were on his back as he stood up on his hindlegs, and went backward down the rocky incline, the only thing that managed to convince him was my "WRATH OF GOD" voice.

I growled/screamed at the top of my lungs in the most horrible, angry way I could (hey, I didn't feel like him falling backward on top of me and being crushed was a cool way to go, seeing that we hadn't even gotten in the ring yet).  All four feet instantly touched the ground and he trotted into the ring in "OH HOLY SHIT" mode and gave me his best "YES MA'AM."  He was an angel the rest of the ride.  From then on, every time he put a foot out of line, he got yelled at.  And maybe I was high enough up off the ground for him to actually think it was God yelling at his sorry ass.  Who knows.  It was literally the only discipline he ever acknowledged.  So I yelled a lot that first summer.

I learned that throat lozenges are good.

I learned that 18.2h horses are unnecessary.  Especially horses that tall, that are actually athletic, like Geordi was.  He could spin out from under you and leave you hanging over this cloud of dust like Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Roadrunner.  This cured my "I Only Want 17+h Warmbloods Phase" that had lasted many, many years.  I learned that if you fall off an 18.2h horse, just lay there and don't panic, because you'll be able to breathe again in another 45 seconds or so.  I learned how much I really love oxygen.  Seriously, that stuff is fantastic, don't take it for granted.  And when you finally regain control of your lung areas, pick yourself up off the ground and walk aaaaaaaaallllllll the way down from the outdoor ring to retrieve your overgrown red 2 year old from the barn, act natural.

I learned that you need to crop your photos "creatively" so that people don't notice how completely ridiculous you look on your giant moose of a horse.

On a serious note, I learned more about consistency.  That horses need boundaries, and that those boundaries need to be enforced.  Once he learned he couldn't walk all over people and get away with shit undersaddle, "Yordan" began to come around.  We had some nice moments...

And we had moments that made me want to drink... Hard.

And we learned that a hunter he was not.

But eventually we got to some decent places in lessons, with great progress on the flat and over fences (we never did get off the farm for shows, but that was fine by everybody.  We chose life).  I learned that some extra ground work can go a long way in enhancing communication and the relationship, and is an effective tool in establishing those rules horses and riders need to operate in.  We ended the first summer with me only having fallen off twice (OWW), and him having developed a work ethic with no more "exiting" issues.  I returned the following summer and rode him another month or so, which was decidedly normal.  He did a lot of maturing that first summer, which the training staff expanded upon later in the year when he was brought back for more training.  He was a lot more fun that second summer, we didn't part ways during our rides, and I was sad to leave when I was hired to ride down in Virginia.

 I'm thankful for my experiences with Geordi.  He was a challenge; immature, opinionated, athletic, an used his size to his advantage.  But he appreciated discipline, and thrived with consistency.  Once we found out what motivated him, his progress was remarkable.  He hacked out down the road, we did flat schools in the open field, jumped around full courses, and we managed not to kill each other.  He tried, he just didn't know how to be good, but he wanted to.  He just needed some direction to get there.  He taught me so much about getting inside the horse's head and solving the problem, not just treating the symptom.  I don't know if he's still alive or what he's doing these days, but I hope he's healthy and happy.

Barn buddies

We added a third member to our Sunday trail rides, and the promise of a fourth and fifth in the future!  The goal was never to have a huge group, but it's nice to have a few people interested in going out for safety reasons, and because all the horses get experience going out in groups and dealing with being in different places in the marching order.  Today was a nice little outing with our usual pals plus a third rider from the barn who was looking to get a good trail experience under and her horse's belts.  Everyone behaved and had a good time.  Mission complete!  :)

I took care of some "horsekeeping" projects today too; Soonie got a bath and had his sheath cleaned (everybody's favorite pastime...).  I don't think either of us really enjoyed his spa day, but now he's totally clean and trimmed up for those horse shows that I still can't get motivated to go to.

Zenny was great today too.  I just did a repeat of yesterday; a quick lunging session to make sure she was listening, there weren't any YeeHaws, and that she got a bit warmed up.  Zero drama on the lunge, and she was much better undersaddle when we started because she didn't jig at all. Just settled into a relatively productive walk.  Her trot was a little rough tracking right (her stiff side, plus she's toed in on that side which creates a little extra challenge), but to the left she was much improved and even had a few moments of self carriage.  All this with a beginner lesson going on in the other end of the ring, and she wasn't bothered at all.  I'll get her out of the indoor and around the farm, probably on some trail rides in the future.  No cantering yet, as I want to get some more strength on her and balance.  Because she's not very fit, I want to keep the riding to about 20 minutes right now, and there's no point in cantering if I can't get a balanced, consistent trot yet.  She'll get there though.

Soonie and I have our second dressage lesson on Wednesday night and I am PSYCHED!  Also scheduled a jump lesson the following week, so I'm really excited to get down to work.

Also, I got home from my five hours at the barn (which is a big deal for me since I got used to being the amateur rider with one horse), made myself a nice dinner of steamed rice/veggies and grilled turkey, and then proceeded to wreck it with lots of chocolate.  And I also got one of those nostalgic YouTube moments and watched Celine Dion music videos for like 45 minutes.

...AND I LIKED IT.  That's right, I like Celine Dion. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Three horses of awesomeness

 First off, video from today and why I love this horse like crazy!

Soon with his ladies
His huggableness makes me just melt.  His talent for cuteness just knows no limits, I swear, and I'm pretty sure I'm wrapped completely around his hoof.  All of them.

I had one heck of a great day at the barn today.  To follow up Soonie's owwie from last week:  he was never fully lame (at least not in the ring on the lunge line), but was short on concrete and had what turned out to be some inflammation on the inside of his left front, with edema on the right hind.  I don't know what he did; he may have tweaked himself outside, or perhaps been a casualty of the ongoing (albeit sporadic) war between him his neighbor in the barn.  Who knows.  He stayed in and was poulticed two nights in a row, wrapped all the way around, and thankfully was sound on Monday.  So he got the rest of the week off just to be sure, and started back outside on Wednesday night.  I hopped on him Friday and did a light, but productive, walk/trot flat school in the indoor, followed by a walk around the farm to cool out with the girls.  The footing in the indoor was questionable, so I opted that today's ride would be more dressage work outside on the track. 

He felt good today, we kept it to a dull roar with maybe 25 minutes of work and just walking and trotting again.  It's nice to be able to work on some dressage stuff out on the track, as it gets the horses out of the ring ("We're going on an adventure, Charlie!"), but offers the most consistent footing on the farm.  And it's fun to visit the magical leopleurodon, even though he doesn't really say anything.

You are entirely too adorable

Good girl Baby Girl!
After I put Soonie away, I brought Zenny out for our first ride.  She was super quiet on the lunge, and overall very well behaved for her first time undersaddle in several years.  She had been doing schooling Training level dressage and jumping around 2'3" before her long period of unemployment.  We worked today on going forward off the leg at the walk without running into the trot, some bending exercises, and when I felt like I had her in a good spot between my leg and hand in the walk, we did some trotting in each direction.  She's built a little down hill; combined with her lack of fitness, she felt a bit heavy in the bridle at times (which I'm told was somewhat typical for her as a 3-4 year old as well).  She did respond well when I pushed her off the inside leg and asked her to displace the shoulder slightly in order to keep her from falling in, so that led to some good moments.  I think she'll come along well, I'm in no hurry and her owner (the barn owner) seemed pleased with what she saw.  When Zen's in that sweet spot (in front of my leg and on the contact without leaning on the bit), she feels like a nice ride.  She is also a sweet mare who seemed legitimately pleased to have a job (pretty typical for more Thoroughbreds).  I look forward to playing with her some more.

After I put Zenny away, the wonderful BO asked if I'd like to hop on her other mare, Bella!  Whoo hoo!  Bella is a young (6 or 7 year old?), 17.1hh Hanoverian mare that the BO is bringing along as a dressage horse.  I was delighted that she offered, so I hopped on and we did a little walk/trot/canter after their workout.  She is a BIG mare, not just tall, but overall large and a lot to keep together.  Nice moving horse, uphill, she's learning and getting stronger all the time, and has a great mommy who is doing a lovely job bringing her along.  It was quite a day for me going from little Soonie, who is like driving a Miata sports car, to Zen who right now feels like a dump truck, to Bella, who is comparable to a dually with a V10 or something in it.  It was a blast to hop on her for those 15 minutes and put her through her paces - I had to really pull out my dressage skillz especially in the sitting trot!  We rode mainly 20 and 25 meter circles while another horse lunged on the other side of the ring, but we did get to do two trot lengthenings on the diagonals which was a blast!  I had a big grin on my face; riding a horse like that who is so different from mine is such a treat, and to be asked to hop on was a real privilege.  I can't ride big horses like that a lot anymore because of my back, but when I get the chance to, it's a lot of fun and nice when I don't embarrass myself and manage to make the horse look good.

I am used to riding just one horse these I got to ride three amazing ones!  Life is good.  :)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Puffy Wuffy

I showed up to the barn intending to take Soonie on a short trail ride, since it's hot and he's had two great dressage schools in as many days.  Unfortunately he came out of the stall short on his left front and had some edema in there.  Didn't seem hot and didn't have a pulse to it, but he was also puffy in the right hind (which happened a couple days ago).  He trotted sound on the lunge line in the ring so I tacked him up, thinking that a little walk would bring the edema down, but heading back to the ring he sounded short on that left front again, so I said forget it.  We walked to the car and grabbed the Back on Track wraps from my trunk.  I untacked and wrapped him so he could spend a few hours in the wraps before they got taken off and he was turned out.  This horse tries so hard for me every day, has such a great attitude about life, so it's not worth pushing him.  It's *hopefully* nothing, fingers crossed that he looks good the next few days.

I got the ride on one of the barn owner's ex-racehorses as well.  Zen is a seven year old Thoroughbred mare.  I'm happy to pick up an extra ride on the weekends without the additional expenses.  I did some round pen/groundwork with her today, and she was pretty good.  She thought the whole thing was an "eat and run" buffet experiment (round pen is on grass), but other than the food distraction, she eventually caught on to what I was asking and came around.  She should be fun to play with and is super cute and sweet.


My time at a horse rescue

Ellie at the time of her rescue
I was perusing some photos on my computer last night (planning for maybe a future #tbt effort), and came across some of the pictures I took during my college internship.  I spent part of the summer outside of Chicago, working for the Hooved Animal Humane Society.  I was looking for a publications internship in the horse industry (at the time I thought I'd be a great writer for an equine magazine), and HAHS had a position open.  So I packed my bags and off I went for my first stint in the Midwest.

HAHS has a large farm with many horses on it, all in various stages of rehabilitation, some permanent residents.  In addition to my writing responsibilities for their nationally distributed magazine, Hoofprints, I was in charge of the training of a couple of horses as well as daily barn chores.  I basically split my time there.  It's one thing to see a photo of an abused or neglected horse, but to see one in person is a feeling I can't describe. Ellie was an aged Arabian mare who was found living alone in an abandoned property.  She was severely underweight, covered in burrs and her hooves badly overgrown.  She had laminitic changes and was very uncomfortable on her feet.  She was seized and brought to HAHS, where staff and volunteers worked to clean her up, farriers worked diligently to correct what they could on her feet, and every effort was made to make her comfortable.  She was sweet; so incredibly sweet and inquisitive.  I remember spending time with her at the end of my work day in her stall, where she had curled up.  She loved the attention and the scratches, kind words and pats.  Unfortunately Ellie started going downhill, and she was put down not too long afterward in order to end her suffering.  RIP sweet girl.

"I can has camera?"

So sweet and such a good girl

Another one of my favorites was Edie.  Edie was a mare of unknown breeding (possible QH blood) who came in with several other mares.  She was easy to handle (if you could catch her) and quiet, but excessively shy and needed to gain confidence around people and other horses.  One of the first days I spent two hours out in the big turnout attempting to catch her (couldn't give up and let her win!).  It was a trial of patience, and the most dedicated won.  I did catch her that day, brought her in for some grooming and treats, and thankfully after that, the catching got steadily easier and easier.  One day I walked out to catch her and found her laying down, napping in the field.  To my surprise she let me approach her without scrambling to her feet.  She was perfectly fine (yeah I freaked out and did the colic check), just enjoying her nap and I was pretty elated when she felt confident enough to just stay down.  That was a pretty big deal for that horse.  A co-worker snapped some photos from the office window, and ventured down to get some better quality ones, hoping the mare would stay put for the photo op.  To our surprise, she stayed there for a good 30 minutes, letting me practically crawl all over her.  To this day, it was one of my favorite moments.

What my co-worker saw from the office

I also saw my share of horrors though.  We did a follow up investigation to a hoarder (she called herself a breeder) who had several dead horses and a deceased dog on the property the previous winter.  On another investigation, we did a seizure of several emaciated bachelor stallions who were living in the woods, while the dominant stud and his herd lived on the property owner's grazing property.  What I learned on that day:
  • Truck engine blocks provide the best cover/protection when you are hiding from the owners, who came home early, and have assault rifles
  • One police escort with an M-9 is really just poor planning
  • Cowboys (real ones) are every bit as ruggedly attractive as you've been told, especially when they show up in baseball caps and ride on stockly little ranch horses bombing around in the woods
  • Photograph everything, especially the rotting corpse of the 2 year old colt you quite literally stumbled on
  • That scapula on the extreme opposite side of the woods didn't just walk itself out there
  • People suck
  • I should have brought a sandwich
  • Always have a map.  And a sandwich.  And extra camera batteries.
So I make a little light of the situation, but in all honesty it's no fun trooping around 40+ acres of thick woods trying to find four feral stallions that really don't want to be caught.  I'm not squeamish when it comes to body parts so no, I didn't freak out when I almost fell into the decomposing remains of that first body (been dead a couple of months), but right then and there I felt just horribly sad for that horse.  I remember staring at it not out of horror, but just sheer heartbreak.  It probably died a long, painful, lonely death by starvation.  And it wasn't the only set of remains on the property; I wondered how many others had died out there because of neglect.

On a happy note, here are some happy photos I took of some of the horses at HAHS:

Eddie and Dunny chillin'

Cody (Mustang).  Goof.

Amy baby


Overall it was a great experience.  It would be nice if everyone had a chance to volunteer with an equine rescue and see for themselves the effect abuse and neglect has on these animals.  It's our responsibility as humans to ensure they never end up like that.  It really puts things in perspective when you're worried about what brand of show coat you want, or how you blew the rollback in your equitation round, or how your medium trot didn't score 8s.  Standing over that horse's remains out there in the middle of the woods, suddenly none of that mattered.  At all.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Barn Bliss

I love our new barn.  LOVE IT.  Everyone here has been super pleasant and friendly, very supportive of each other, and just flat out helpful.  The barn owner and barn manager and I have been working well together to get Soon's weight back up, and I'm happy to report that it's starting to noticeably improve.  I suspect in another month he's going to be looking really amazing.  He's on day six of the Ulcergard (omeprazole) treatment as well, which I'm doing as just a precaution in case he did develop any ulcer issues with the trip.  It's almost cute how he looks forward to his nightly Ulcergard, it's seems palatable, and he knows he gets a carrot immediately afterward.  Sign him up!  ;)  He's loving the rice bran as well, so things are all coming together and starting to show some marked weight gain.  Color me relieved.

Soonie also got his feet done today!  He got an excellent report card and a barn buddy was happy to hold him for me while I was at work (she was kind enough to text me that photo with the caption "I am a totally adorable gentleman."  Aww!).  Farrier did nice work and is reasonably priced for this area, so, that was an added bonus.  When I arrived, I chatted with the barn owner and thanked her for sneaking him into the rotation today, and she gushed about how much she loved Soon's personality and attitude. It's just wonderful to have folks say such lovely things about your horse, how special he seems, how he's endearing himself to them, just to say them.  Makes me feel like people around here really just love being around their horses.

Bubba love mirror.  I love mirror.
I took Soon out for a light ride this evening; I wanted to take it easy as it was hot and muggy, he just had his feet done, and we've both had a couple days off.  I'm working on some of the things we introduced in last week's lesson, and I think that we had a couple of really good moments tonight.  The work on the connection is improving our stretch work as well, and it's nice to feel things click in both the longer, lower outline, and the shorter, higher one as well.  We're still only doing a few minutes at a time on the shorter rein, but he's coming into that outline a little easier each time we do it and feels great. I'm really looking forward to how much we can progress with the resources we have here.  Good stuff and I love my Soonie!  :)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Back in the 'Burg, Bitches! :)

This was, quite literally, my day job
So with my return to the Mid-Atlantic, I am now within reasonable driving distance of the most magical place on earth: Middleburg, Virginia.  I used to live and ride professionally in the Middleburg/Upperville areas, and during that time I completely fell in love with it.  Like, head over heels in love, and if there was one place I wish I could go when I die, it would be there.

Also because of the greatest secret known to man:  The Middleburg Tack Exchange.  Like you didn't see that one coming.

So I may or may not (just kidding...I totally did) have gone to the Tack Exchange on at least a weekly basis when I used to live in the area.  You can get some really nice deals on great stuff, everything from bridles to boots, melton hunt coats to soft shells, saddles to fly scrims.  And jockey whips.  And hunt appointments.  And those snazzy colored boot socks.  And ALL THE BREECHES.  Basically, if it's there, then you need it.  You may just not know it yet, but get it anyway.

Suffice it to say, when I have a four-day holiday weekend, I'm going to Middleburg.  And dammit, I'm going to the Exchange first to see what deals I can find before any other tack shop gets my business.  And as I expected, my journey yielded great conquest.

I went in to drop off two pairs of new Tailored Sportsman breeches (one pair I had actually purchased new from the Exchange before leaving Virginia...shockingly enough, I did not ever wear those damn whites) and my second pair of Ariat field boots.  I bought them new back in the day; those field boots are about eight or nine years old (before Ariat move production of their boots to China), but only seen about four days of work their entire lives.  I had to have a zipper and wider gusset installed after getting back into riding and dusting them off, and even then, they still didn't feel right, so I decided to unload.  I got those items consigned, and then decided to have a look around the shop for old time's sake.  And by "look around" I mean yeah, I was definitely going to buy something.

With my new custom Dehner field boots arriving by the end of the summer and my current (13 year old) Ariats ready to die three years ago, I thought I might look downstairs to see if there was a decent pair of field boots I might use as a schooling/beater set.  And then there they were: a relatively new pair of Ariat zip up field boots, worn just enough to be broken in (kind of) and they FIT. LIKE. A. GLOVE.  So for $195, yes, I will take those thankyouverymuch.  Now I have a reasonably attractive schooling set of boots which will save my uber beautiful Dehners a little extra wear and tear around the barn or when the weather is gross.  I rode in them that afternoon and they were great.  Now my beloved old Ariats can retire for good, before they completely disintegrate around my feet.


I also snagged a sweet pair of rubber-lined leather galloping boots for Soon, because you can never have too many horse boots and I *might* actually need those rubber-lined leather ones, for something, someday.  For $35, why not?  When I was consolidating my horse stuff last summer, I asked myself how I possibly ended up with four tack trunks worth of shit, and this is exactly how something like that happens.  I got another leather halter at the Exchange before wandering down the street to the Tack Box, where I added a blanket rack, two boxes of Ulcergard, and front and hind brushing boots to the day's take.

So maybe I didn't need to drop cash, but it's Middleburg, so...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dressage Lesson #1

Soonie and I had our first "real" dressage lesson tonight and he was AWESOME! :-D

I can go on for paragraphs, but I'll cut to the chase and spare you all:  I found my outside rein and we worked on getting Soon up in a shorter outline.  He had some real brilliant moments too - he worked in a higher outline much longer than he has before, and he remained soft and happy in the work.  We got his right side unlocked, I supported correctly on the outside aids, and we got him to bring the base of his neck up.  It took him and I a couple of minutes to get it right starting out, but he clued in pretty quickly at the start of the lesson, and the rest of the ride was just getting a little bit more out of him with each movement.  I felt better in the saddle, he felt like he was much more uphill and going somewhere, and getting much more "through" while still maintaining the shorter outline.  I could definitely feel the change in the gait when his inside hind came up and under himself, if only for a few steps at a time.  His canter got him immediate compliments from the trainer as well, who was pushing us, but was very pleasant about it and happy to give praise when earned.  She was lovely to deal with and helped me get more out of my horse, so we'll be riding with her every other week. She events as well, so we'll do jump schools with her too.

Next ride will probably be a light flat school with plenty of stretch work, as we only did a little bit of stretching as a break.  The shorter/higher outline is a lot of work for him at this stage, so we'll take it easy and recover.  The 98 degree (felt like 102?) didn't help either - I normally don't ride when it's that hot, but it was that or no lesson, so we dealt with it.  My eyelids were sweating.  Gross.  Soonie seemed to recover just fine, he got a long, cool hosing and got to eat hay in front of his fan after.  And lots of carrots for making Mommy look good in front of the dressage lady.  We're off to a great start!  :)

Dramatic reenactment